Social media can provide as many distractions as you’re willing to scroll through. Just before Boston College opened up preseason camp this summer, AJ Dillon decided to disconnect. His account’s still there, but aside from a stray retweet, Dillon unplugged.
But some things are hard to block out. In the two weeks the Eagles had to prepare for Saturday against N.C. State, not even a mute button could keep Dillon from hearing about, in his words, “ the No. 1 rush defense in the ACC.”
The Wolfpack, with a shiny new 3-3-5 defense, were giving up just 66.7 rushing yards per game. They were fifth in the nation, and held five of their first six opponents under 100 yards rushing as a team.
That was all the ammunition Dillon needed.
“Watching film all week, I studied these guys, I re-studied, I knew what every player was going to do,” Dillon said. “Not that it necessarily changed the game plan or that we had anything to prove, but when you’re a competitor, you want to go up against the best. So if they’re the best rush defense, we wanted to come with our best.”
Dillon led a BC rushing attack that mangled N.C. State, 45-24, at Alumni Stadium. The Eagles churned out a season-high 429 rushing yards, more than N.C. State gave up in its first six games combined, and the second-highest single-game total in seven seasons under BC coach Steve Addazio.
“On offense, we spent an awful lot of time, honestly, just trying to scheme our running game,” Addazio said. “This was a little bit different style of defense. We hadn’t seen it yet, and there was really not enough film out there for us to view them playing anybody like us. We spent an awful lot of time putting together the run attack against this defense.”
Without quarterback Anthony Brown, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Louisville two weeks ago, Dillon and David Bailey doubled up on 100-yard performances. Dillon trucked over the Wolfpack defense for a season-high 223 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries. Bailey needed just 16 attempts to pile up a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns.
No running back duo in BC history had put together dual 180-yard performances. The last time BC had a tandem go for 150 yards was 1997, when Omari Walker (185) and Mike Cloud (157) did in a loss to Miami.
N.C. State hadn’t given up 100 yards to two runners in the same games since 2015. The Wolfpack allowed 10 BC runs of at least 10 yards; they’d allowed 11 all season before Saturday.
“I had a feeling that today was going to be a great day just because of the look in everybody’s eyes,” Dillon said. “But I wasn’t expecting what we did today.”
Addazio had a gut feeling earlier in the week that Dillon was due for a breakthrough. This was his fifth straight 100-yard game, his third career 200-yard binge, and his fourth-career three-touchdown performance.
“He’s a great back,” Addazio said. “And while he has had some great games and he’s up there nationally and all that, I still felt like, you know what, he’s an elite player and he hasn’t had that breakout game yet. He’s had some unbelievably great games and those grind-’em-out games, but I thought you started to see what I consider that breakout game. You know he’s going to have it, it’s just a matter of when it was going to happen and I’m super jacked that it happened today.”
What troubled N.C. State coach Dave Doeren as much as the threat of Dillon was that Bailey was just as dangerous. His fears were confirmed in the second quarter, when Bailey found a sliver of daylight, slipped a couple of tackles, and broke loose for a 54-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up, 17-3. The next drive, he broke loose for a 48-yard touchdown that felt like a glitch in the matrix.
Bailey and Dillon, close friends since Bailey arrived at The Heights, were practically competing against themselves.
“Every time I go on the field, I always feel like I have a point to prove,” Bailey said. “I always tell myself I’m the best player on the field just like anybody else would.”
Coming off back-to-back losses, the bye week gave the Eagles a chance to reset, and the win got them back on track as they prepare for their toughest challenge of the season: on the road against Clemson next week.
“As a whole offense, I feel like we really showed it doesn’t really matter who we line up against, or what statistical ratings or anything that people have,” Dillon said. “We’re going to come with everything we have, and if we can play like that, we can play with anybody.”